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April 14th

On this day in 1881 some heavy shit was going down in El Paso, Texas. Mosey on down with me pardners and I’ll tell y’all about it.

My name is Dallas and I'm about to kill you dead.

Now the first thing you should know about this part of the world in the latter part of them there nineteenth century years is that it was one helluva fighty ole place. In this very year the Southern Pacific, the Texas and Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railways arrived in the town and the population grew to 10,000. Doesn’t sound like that much by today’s big city standards, but it was pretty much a boom town at the time. The boom was great for the economy, but a real bugger for the crime statistics, and that, my friends, is where we come in. You see, in the middle of this fightiness, there was a gunfight. It was epic. It was awesome. It was The Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight. Sure, you’re all more familiar with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but let me tell you something, those shooters took about 30 seconds to kill three people. I call that, well, frankly, disappointing. So let’s forget about the O.K. Corral and learn all about a real gunfight! Yeehaw!

Here’s what happened leading up to that fateful day. One of the big crime problems was cattle rustling and Johnny Hale, a rancher just outside the city, was a noted cattle rustler. He’d been stealing cattle from some Mexicans and two vaqueros (that’s a Mexican cowboy) named Sanchez and Juarique had been up to El Paso looking for thirty head of cattle he’d stolen off them. But, they’d been gone some time, and their friends and neighbours had set up a posse to come looking for them. Now, this was 1881, and even back then there was a deal of racism aimed at Texas’s Mexican neighbours. Mexicans were not allowed to carry firearms within the city limits. This is not what caused the problem though. The mayor, when he heard why the posse was there, was pretty sympathetic and allowed them to keep their guns and hunt out that low down dog, Hale. A constable called Gus Krempkau rode out with them to the ranch and lo and behold, they found the corpses of Sanchez and Juarique close to the ranch.

Turns out that Hale and some of his cattle rustling brethren were worried that the two Mexicans would find the cattle and come back with more men to dispense justice. So, two of them, Fredericks and Pervey, killed them stone dead. The whole sorry affair was taken to court where it was decided that Pervey and Fredericks would stand trial for murder. Krempkau, who spoke Spanish, was on hand to translate for the Mexicans. When the court adjourned everyone headed out for dinner and beer and that should have been the end of it. But, of course, there was more to come.

Hale had turned up with a friend of his, George Campbell, who had been the town marshal of El Paso (he lost the job because he was a drunk and a dick). They were not happy, but retired

The street where it all went down

to a local tavern to drink and drink and drink a little more. Across the road from the tavern, the newly appointed town marshal, Dallas Stoudenmire, was eating some dinner. He’d been in the court room too and knew all that had gone down. All was quiet until Gus Krempkau arrived at the tavern. Hale and Campbell were pretty much the worse for wear by this time and Campbell started trash-talking Krempkau for being a Mexican lover and talking their goddamned greasy language. He probably said worse. If Deadwood has taught us anything it’s that people in frontier towns and places like that swore like utter fucking bastards back in the day. In the midst of the trash-talking, Johnny Hale – who was so pissed he could barely see straight – got hold of one of Campbell’s pistols shouted “I got you covered, George!” and shot Krempkau. And now the stopwatch starts. Krempkau reeled back and collapsed against a wooden joist, he pulled out his own gun. Dallas Stoudenmire had heard the shot and he ran from the diner with his pistols drawn. He started shooting as he ran and gunned down an innocent bystander, a young chap named Ochoa; this did not slow him down, not even a little bit. Hale saw that his ass was on the line and managed to jump behind an adobe pillar, but Stoudenmire was too quick for him. Hale, popped his head around the pillar and Stoudenmire shot him right between the eyes. Campbell screamed at Stoudenmire to keep out of it, Krempkau, on the verge of losing consciousness shot Campbell twice. One bullet hit him in the wrist, breaking  his hand, the other got him in the foot. He screamed again and Stoudenmire whirled toward him and shot him, hitting him square in the stomach. He carried on walking toward Campbell who was now writhing in agony. Stoudenmire stood over him. Campbell’s last words were “You big bastard! You’ve murdered me!” And indeed he had.

It was all over. Krempkau, Ochoa, Hale and Campbell all lay dead. Now, call me picky, but I think that all of this may have taken a tiny bit longer than five seconds. Indeed some bystanders said afterwards that they thought it was closer to ten seconds. I guess four dead in ten seconds just don’t have that same ole murderous ring to it. Either way, there were still more dead than they managed at the O.K. Corral and in much less time, but for some reason it’s always been overshadowed by them thar Earps and that thar Doc Holliday. I dunno, I guess that maybe the guys from Tombstone had better P.R. agents or something.  But Dallas and Gus have me now and I’m bigging up those shooty men for fearlessly waving their guns around and killing each other for no damn good reason at all. Respec’ y’all!

For Today’s birthday we’re sticking with the law, but going for a less-shooty kind of law man. Today it’s Frank Serpico’s birthday. If you thought he was just a character in a film, played by Al Pacino, shame on you!

Serpico at the time of the Knapp Commission

Frank Serpico was a simple NYPD police officer. He worked as a patrol man, in finger printing and then got assigned to plainclothes where things got a little, sticky. Serpico was pretty disgusted by the widespread corruption he encountered and as a result of him trying to avoid it and refusing to be a part of it his career there was short-lived.  However, he didn’t just walk way from it. He spent the next years trying to bring the corruption to the attention of his superiors. Funnily enough they didn’t seem that interested. He was stymied by red tape and bureaucracy and seemed to be getting nowhere until he hooked up with another officer, David Durk, who felt the same way that he did. Now he head someone on his side, but as time passed  they were still being ignored. Finally after years of trying to go about things the right way, Frank went to the press. In 1970 he contributed to a New York Times story on corruption in the NYPD. This forced the mayor of NYC to do something and the Knapp Commission was appointed to investigate police corruption.

In 1971, Serpico was with other officers on a drug raid, when it became clear that his peers were not happy with him. The story of how he got shot in the face is long and convoluted, but at its heart lies the indisputable evidence that while the officers on the raid with him may not have deliberately sent him to be executed, they certainly did not give him back up, support him, or call in his injury when he was shot. Without the assistance of an Hispanic man in the building being raided, Serpico may have died. As it was he was left deaf in one ear and in constant pain from gunshot fragments left in his brain.  Later that year he testified to the Knapp Commission, becoming the first NYPD officer in its history to have the courage to publicly confront corruption in the force.

He retired in 1972 and after spending a decade living in Europe he returned to live in upstate NY. He lectures at universities and

Frank Serpico as he is now

police academies, helps out officers in similar positions to his own and campaigns against corruption and the weakening of civil liberties. Frank Serpico is an ordinary man who refused to stand by and see dishonesty cow honesty into silence.  When Al Pacino met him in 1973 to talk to him in preparation for playing him, he (Pacino) asked why he had done what he did, with all its concomitant risks. Frank replied, “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because … if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?”

I doubt this blog is your cup of tea (or even coffee), Mr Serpico, but if you happen across it, I want you to know that I think you are a genuine hero, a good and fine man who refused to stay quiet. We need more people like you and it makes me happy to tell people a little more about you. Happy birthday, sir, and I hope you have many, many more.


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March 29th

On this day in 1886 morphine addicted, Civil War veteran John Pemberton brewed his first batch of Coca-Cola. The rest, as they say, is history, so I guess we should look at a little bit of that, being all about the history, but before we go into the future, a little of Mr Pemberton’s past.


Evolution of the Coca Cola bottle

John Pemberton was a Confederate veteran, which makes sense as he lived in Atlanta, Georgia. He was injured at the Battle of Columbus in 1865 and like many of his contemporaries he became addicted to the morphine that was prescribed for his pain. He was a bit worried about being a smackhead, so sought for ways in which to rid himself from the grip of it. At that time there was a drink around called Vin Mariani. It had been created in France and was a mixture of wine and coca leaves. It was very popular and Pemberton must have come across it because he produced his own version called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. He marketed it as a medicinal tonic which could help cure morphine addiction, headaches, depression and alcoholism. It was also marketed to Southern Belles who were a bit highly strung with the blurb: “ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration, irregularities of the stomach, bowels and kidneys, who require a nerve tonic and a pure, delightful diffusable stimulant.”


It proved a big hit and why wouldn’t it. Part wine, part cocaine, who needed morphine? And of course it “cured” alcoholism, unless one counted the wine in it as alcohol, which clearly people didn’t. It’s a little like saying you can cure a broken leg by breaking it, but such quibbles did not prevent big sales of Pemberton’s wonder tonic. What did prevent further sales of it was a temperance law that came into effect in Atlanta and Fulton County in 1886. French Wine Cola became verboten.

Not wanting to kill his golden goose while it still had many eggs to lay, Pemberton worked on finding a way of producing his tonic without the need for wine. He turned to a pharmacist called Willis Venables, who helped him to perfect and test a new recipe. Eventually they came up with their cola syrup which would be diluted in carbonated water, gave it the alliterative name, Coca Cola and thus it was that because of temperance we all got ourselves a soft drink that still sells like a bastard today.

Pemberton’s involvement in his creation did not last for long, but the Coke we know today was due to him, Venables and Frank Mason Robinson. The latter came up with the name and wrote out the first labels and adverts, in the Spencerian Script that still adorns them today. The following year the business was bought by Asa Candler who started to create the multinational corporation that Coca Cola is today. Although he bought the rights, there were some shenanigans at first. Pemberton sold to him and a couple of others, including Charles Ney Pemberton, his own alcoholic son (one gets the idea that the family was a little dysfunctional given its reliance on drugs and alcohol), but this was eventually all sorted out in Candler’s favour, probably with a bit of forgery and skullduggery on Candler’s part.

The cocaine thing? When it was first produced the recipe – the part we’re allowed to know anyway, minus Merchandise 7X (the secret

Cures everything but cocaine addiction. An early advert.

ingredient) – called for three parts coca leaves to one part cola nut. Coca leaves are where we get cocaine from. The amount that was in it was called negligible in later years, but it was probably a little more than that. Cocaine was popular at the time in a variety of medicinal beverages and thought of as pretty harmless and a good substitute or beer. Unfortunately in the 1890s feelings toward cocaine took a bit of a downward turn and in 1903 there was an article in the New York Tribune linking cocaine with “black crime” and calling for legal action against Coca Cola. This led to a slight change in the recipe and a major change in the marketing. From then on the leaves used in the recipe were spent coca leaves, i.e. after the cocaine has been extracted from them, rather than fresh ones and Coca Cola was no longer advertised as a medicinal tonic, but purely as a refreshing beverage.


Pemberton was long dead by this time. He died in 1888, two years after he’d created one of the most popular non-alcoholic drinks the world has ever known and one year after selling it all for a mess of pottage, relatively speaking. Coke has gone on to conquer the world, there’s even a word – Coca Colanization – which describes how it has been an instrument of US colonisation without the need for arms or force. It’s also been involved in a lot of anti-union disputes, bad working practice reports and possibly the death of union activists in countries outside of the US. This all sits very badly with me, because anyone who knows me, knows what a Coke fiend I am. I hate to support a corporation that is, whatever way you want to cut it, pretty bloody cuntish, but what can I do? Truth is it might not contain cocaine any longer, but those bastards have still found a way to make it addictive. Maybe one day I’ll do the whole twelve steps things and rid me of its syrupy evil. Until then, my name is Almaniacal and I am a Coca Cola-holic.


Today is the birthday of myopic hotty, Christophe Lambert, better known as Lord Greystoke or Connor MacLeod.


Oh. My.

Lambert (please pronounce it in the French way, to show that you have some culture, darlings) first came to the attention of the English-speaking public when he appeared in Hugh Hudson’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. He was an instant hit and why wouldn’t he be. He spent much of the film half-naked and when he wasn’t, he was all poshed up and cuter than a very cute thing from the capital of cute. He then went on to make Subway with Jean Luc Besson, which was a pretty good film. To be fair to Greystoke, I loved it, but you could hardly call it quality. I can’t say much more about it, because that would involve me getting in to the bit near the end where his “father” dies and that’s too unbearably sad and I cannot type through tears, dammit!


Christophe’s biggest success came in Highlander, where he played the legendary Connor MacLeod. The best thing about that film was that he played a Scot with a French accent and Sean Connery played a Spaniard with a Scottish accent. That and the Queen soundtrack which was aces. It was both a very silly film and bloody marvellous and Lambert proved that he looked just as good in a kilt as he did in a loincloth, i.e. very good indeed. Since the heady days of the mid-eighties, it’s fair to say that his light has dimmed a little. He’s made a lot of very bad films, a handful of critically well-received but commercially unsuccessful ones and sort of disappeared from view. Mostly.

These days he still acts, also produces and like many a fine Frenchman before him, he owns a vineyard as well as a mineral water company and a food processing company. He’s not doing bad for himself all things considered. Bless him.

Other facts about this utterly gorgeous man: he is gorgeous; his myopia is severe, he can’t wear contacts, so when he does act on film,

Blond for Subway. I may have to lie down for a while now

he’s pretty much blind, which lends him that odd gaze which many think has made him so attractive to women. I can’t contest that as the first time I saw him looking all bog-eyed in Tarzan I was a total goner for him. I used to have the film poster up in my flat. Readers, I loved him.


So, Christophe, I know you’re all loved up with Sophie Marceau and that and you’re not in the first flush of that stunning youth any longer, but I still would so … Happy birthday, you gorgeous man. You can monkey around with me (yes, I’m groaning too) any time!



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March 27th

On this day in 1881 Basingstoke erupted in rioting. The cause? The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army had turned up in Basingstoke the previous year and immediately begun temperance campaigns. So far, so ever so slightly annoying, but their campaigns became rather noisy. Every Sunday they’d march around the town blowing their trumpets, banging their drums and calling out anti-drinking slogans that were as imaginative as  “Ban all drink!”. One can only imagine that

The riot probably looked a bit like this, but better drawn

religious self-righteousness had taken up the part of their brains where the imagination lived and killed it. The good people of Basingstoke were rather irritated by these marches. Some, who would no more think  of going into a public house than they would show off their hairy gardens on the high street, because they did not want the peace of the Sabbath being broken by the noise and the clamour. Others, who liked a pint or eleventeen, were outraged that these dull fuckers were ruining their drinking time and trying to close down their favourite haunts. Something had to give and give it did.


Before the big riot, there had been smaller incidents and there were also a group, who called themselves Massagainians, who followed the Sally Army around the town. They would play home-made instruments, sometimes nothing more than a tin can filled with stones, and sing bawdy songs very loudly, in an attempt to drown out the holy Joes and Josephines. There was something of an incident on 20th March, when 1,000 people gathered in Market Place armed with sticks and cudgels and had a bit of a go at the Sally Army. There were few injuries as supporters of the musical prohibitionists protected them and got them away. Not deterred, the following week saw full-on action from the folk of Basingstoke.

2,000 people turned up, armed as before. There were also 100 special constables there to ensure that things didn’t get out of hand. They didn’t quite manage to do that. It kicked off big time, sticks were flying, blows were being rained upon the Sally Army and high dudgeon was a place being occupied by all those who’d had enough of being told they shouldn’t have a pint or several to enliven their otherwise dull lives (this was Basingstoke after all, it was a bit of a deadly place to live if you wanted excitement). The Mayor (himself a member of a local brewery) had to call in the Horse Artillery, who were stationed in the town, to break up the riot before someone got killed. He then mounted the steps of the Town Hall and read them the riot act. Yes, that’s right! Back in Victorian Britain if you got a bit rioty, you were physically read the riot act. I love the idea of some poor bugger having to read out reams of legalese in an attempt to subdue an angry mob.

Luckily, no one was killed, but there were plenty of injuries and many sore heads that couldn’t be blamed on too much ale. The attempts to rid themselves of the God Squad went on until 1883, but there were no more riots. By 1883, the townsfolk realised that Salvation Army were going nowhere so they might as well get used to having them around. It took a little longer for the Sallies to realise that drinking wasn’t going to be stopped by hymns, pipe and drum. Stalemate, is not a victory, but it is an end of sorts.

And there we have it, dear readers. Even somewhere as boring as Basingstoke has had its moments and its lovely to know that while people might be backwards about coming forward over issues as varied as workers’ rights, social deprivation and the pointlessness of war, can be relied upon to break heads when it comes to the matter of depriving them of a drop of the hard stuff. Basingstoke we would salute you, but then you might think we were all Sally Army and get out your sticks again. So we won’t.


Today is the birthday of a man with a face like a Halloween mask. He is a writer, director and sometime very bad actor whose name is Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino is one of those men who you know you’d slap stupid if you had to spend more than ten minutes with him, but he has made a couple of good films. Personally I mostly hate Reservoir Dogs because it’s a rip off and because there’s that whole bit about Like a Virgin which is totally fucking sexist. I love Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, however, so kudos and all that. I’m not keen on Natural Born Killers, which he scripted, but I love From Dusk Till Dawn, especially the bits where we get to see Salma Hayak’s lovely eyes and when he is killed.

I have yet to figure out if Tarantino is an idiot savant or just an idiot, but given that occasionally he gets it spot on he’s probably at the

Quentin styling out those smouldering looks of his

very least an idiot semi-savant.  He used to go out with the wonderful Mira Sorvino and I do feel a bit sorry for her because I imagine that sometimes she must have woken up and seen that face looming over her and thought that a burglar in a bad mask had crept into the house and was going to kill her.  I think he’s single at the moment, so no jostling in that queue laydeez!


Whatever his faults, and I don’t blame  him for his face because he didn’t ask to be born like that, he does love film with a passion and this makes me like him more than I’m otherwise minded to. He’s also not a big fan of the whole digitization thing, the 3-d thing and other related jiggery-pokery, so this makes him sort of okay (but not quite) in my book.

And so, there remains nothing to say but that elusive genuine happy birthday thing. Happy birthday then, Quentin. If you happen to read this after I’ve submitted a screenplay and you think of ruining my chances in Hollywood because of my scant praise for you, do not. If you do I will cut you.

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March 13th

On this day in 1969, in the midst of the Vietnam war, Disney released a film called The Love Bug. It was so popular that many sequels followed, all starring a little Volkswagen called Herbie.

Never one to miss a chance to bring our old nemesis Adolf into a story, it’s worth mentioning at this point, before we get down to the nitty-gritty, that it was the bastard Führer who came up with the idea of the Volkswagen (the people’s car) in the first place and a certain Mr Porsche who came up with the design. Many of us have seen Herbie with this delightful little 53 painted onto his bonnet

Herbie mows down any damn non-Aryan who gets in his way

and we probably all wanted a car just like him at the time. But think on.

Herbie was in fact a Nazi spy and even though it seemed like he was representing some sort of automotive American dream, he was not.  In the film we never find out where Herbie came from, but that is because the filmmakers did not want us to know the truth about his background. Herbie was put together by German scientists during the war to act as a spy car and to help them take over the world. At the end of the war, he was left alone in a little laboratory until he was found and sold to the American market, which as luck would have it is where the scientists wanted to send him in the first place.

In the films we see him being all sweet and helping Dean Jones win races and the girl, but we ignore the fact that in helping one man he is in fact trying to kill and maim others. Although the filmmakers knew he was a spy car it wasn’t until the 1980 film Herbie goes Bananas that they cottoned on to his killy tendencies. They immediately stopped making films with the car because they were frankly terrified of him. They only went with the Lindsay Lohan remake because they were hoping that Herbie might kill her. Unfortunately he saw that she was just the sort of person to make America look bad, so he spared her life.

So, there it is. We all loved Herbie for his cute little ways, but he was in fact a trained assassin, a spy and a dirty Nazi to boot. One should never judge a car by it’s paintjob.

Today was the birthday of a man called Daniel Lambert. He was born in Leicestershire in 1770 and gained fame for his huge bulk. By the time Daniel died he weighed 52st 11lb (739lb). Daniel had not been particularly large as a child and young man and was in fact very active, loving to swim, walk and hunt. It seems, however, that when he took over his father’s job as gaol-keeper in Leicester at the age of about 21, the pounds started to pile on.

Lambert always insisted that he drank  no alcohol and didn’t eat much. This is obviously a pile of old bollocks. One does not get to be the size of about 4 or 5 men without eating a little more than average at the very least. As for his insistence that he drank no alcohol, this is also unlikely. He was living in an era when water could still be a bit iffy and most people drank beer in the same way that we today would drink water. Lambert like many people who are extremely obese, underestimated the amount he ate in the same way that anorexics look in the mirror and see a fat person.

There was more to Daniel than his weight. He was, by all accounts an intelligent and interesting man and he once had a fight with a

Daniel did not see his penis for the last fifteen years of his life

bear who was trying to hurt his dog (and won). In 1805 when the Leicester Bridewell closed down, he was left without a job and although he had a £50 annuity it was not enough to keep him in food and clothes, so he made his way to London in order to exhibit himself – he was over 50st by this time – and earn a living. He was very popular and made a lot of money from visitors who were keen to see his bulk for themselves. Many commented on his wit and intelligence as most had been expecting a large slow-witted man. When he had earned a large amount, Lambert headed back to Leicester where he lived, with some small tours to make more money, until his death in 1809.

With the obesity we see nowadays, Daniel would not seem that out of the ordinary, but in his day he was seen, even if affectionately, as a freak. The affection did however live on after his death. His name became synonymous with “a fat man” and he was mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby and Vanity Fair. As the century wore on, his name was lent to anything large, so someone with huge intelligence would be said to be “a Daniel Lambert of learning”.

So, there you are. March 13th 1770 a man was born who grew up to be very fat and then he died. Not exactly earth-shattering, but in his own way far more worthy of considering than some of our recent birthday boys <cough> Murdoch and Doherty</cough>.

Happy birthday, Daniel Lambert, don’t stint on the cake!


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